“When we left the old city, we knew we don’t have anywhere to go but we had enough of hunger. We had to leave Old Homs.”
Ahida, her husband, and four of her children fled the old city of Homs during the UN monitored evacuation mission two weeks ago.
Ahida, who is a mother of six, is still in the school-turned-shelter where her husband and 16 years old son went through “security processing” following the family’s evacuation. Both have been cleared to leave but, with no idea where to go, the family have decided to remain there for now. UNICEF is providing assistance to families in the centre and distributing children’s clothes and play items.
“We waited for assistance for so long, rumours kept doing the rounds that we will be rescued and the world will not let us simply die of hunger,” Ahida, told us while her youngest baby boy slept peacefully beside her.
600 days under siege
The old quarter of Homs has been under blockade for more than 18 months leaving residents with essential goods, medical or energy supplies. UNICEF, along with other UN and international actors, has made repeated attempts to gain humanitarian access to Old Homs and other areas in Syria where children and families are living under siege. Youssouf Abdel Jelil, UNICEF representative in Syria, explains:
“Many previous attempts to enter the Old City with humanitarian aid, as far back as June 2012, were unsuccessful. As the siege continued, humanitarian conditions inside the Old City continued to deteriorate.”
We fed our children grass to keep them alive
To survive, mothers like Ahida are forced come up with creative solutions to keep their children alive.
“Along with my neighbours we started cooking grass and weed for main mails. We boiled herbs to make soup for the children. We had little to eat for ourselves, but children get the first attention.”
Ahida has two married daughters whom she has not seen in two years. She has completely lost touch with her 20-year old daughter.
“Her husband took her to Damascus Suburbs somewhere. When our house got shelled last year everything was burnt. We lost our phones and did have any way to contact them. I pray for her safety every night”.
Married at 15 as a means of escape
Her other married daughter is only 17.
“When the conditions were so difficult in Old Homs, a remote relative proposed to her, we agreed to marry her off as we wanted her be somewhere safe. She was around 15 years old” the mother said. “Now she lives with her in-laws somewhere in Damascus. We managed to speak to her over the phone” she smiled “she brought the news to us that she is five month pregnant.”
During the evacuation mission, the UN managed to deliver part of the planned humanitarian assistance inside the old quarter. During the week-long evacuation of Old Homs, 1,366 people are reported to have been evacuated from the Old City, including 332 children, of which 36 are infants. Most evacuees showed signs of trauma, illness and malnutrition. Some cases were hospitalized and many others will need long psychosocial care. A population of 2,600 are reported to be still stuck in the Old City.
“Despite coming under attack, several humanitarian convoys managed to deliver much-needed supplies to the Old City, including food and medicines,” said Abdel Jelil.
As told to Razan Rashidi, UNICEF Syria.